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ISSUE 117 VOL 19 PUBLISHED 5/14/2004

Baseball recovers, clinches tournament bid

By Ryan Maus
Sports Editor


Friday, May 14, 2004

One of the hallmarks of a great team is its ability to get up after a tough loss, dust itself off, and come right back with a win in their next contest. The jury is still out about the true caliber of the St. Olaf baseball team, but there is little doubt that the potential for such greatness exists.

The Oles rebounded from back-to-back disappointing losses to St. Thomas last Wednesday to sweep Augsburg on Saturday, securing the fourth seed in the MIAC tournament.

Heading into Wednesdays games against the conference-leading Tommies, St. Olaf needed only one more victory to clinch a spot in the conference tournament. Down 3-1 heading into the sixth inning, the Oles rallied for four runs to take a 5-3 lead. Sophomore Jeff Hudsons bases-loaded double was the big blow, and it seemed the game was all but over.

Ace Charlie Ruud 04, who had battled all day against a dangerous St. Thomas lineup, quickly retired the first two hitters in the top of the seventh inning. With two outs, St. Thomas Nick Bellmont hit a pop fly to shallow center field that dropped between three St. Olaf defenders for a bloop single. The Ole faithful could then only stare in disbelief as the next batter, the Tommies Brett Olson, lined a 2-run home run over the right field fence to tie the game at five. St. Thomas went on to score two runs in the ninth, and a late Ole rally wasnt enough to prevent a 7-6 Tommie victory.

That was one of the most gut-wrenching losses Ive ever been a part of, head coach Matt McDonald said after the game.

The disappointment carried over into game two; the Oles were soundly trounced by St. Thomas, 9-2. St. Olaf committed six errors and was hurt by numerous bad bounces in the outfield. The team also struck out nine times.

The first game was another great St. Thomas-St. Olaf battle, McDonald said. Weve come out on the winning end of a lot of them, we just didnt in the first game and it affected us in the second one. It was a game where we had a lot of things just not go our way.

Heading into play Saturday, the Oles needed to take at least one game from Augsburg to reach post-season play. In the first game, starter Eric Tobias 06 pitched well, allowing three runs on seven hits through six innings, but the Oles still found themselves in a 3-1 hole going into the bottom of the sixth.

It was the ensuing rally which changed the complexion of the teams entire season. It started inconspicuously enough, with a two-out walk by Evan Klefsaas 07. Brett Berry 06 came through with a double, and then Larry Nava 05 delivered with a clutch two-run single to tie the game. Dan Norsten 04 promptly followed with a pinch-hit single through the left side of the infield, and a great slide at home by Nava gave the Oles their first lead of the day. Ruud made a rare relief appearance in the seventh and decisively slammed the door on the Auggies by striking out the side.

Their post-season berth clinched, the Oles were much more relaxed in the second game. They pounded out eleven hits in a 14-3 victory, led by Nick Rost 07 (2-4 with five RBIs) and Norsten (4-4 with three RBIs).

A couple of guys just rose to the challenge [on Saturday], McDonald said. The thing about baseball is that all you have to do is just hit the ball where they arent. We finally got a couple breaks [in the first game]. In the second game, we made our own breaks.

With the regular season over, the Oles turn their attention to the MIAC tournament, to be held this Friday through Sunday (May 14-16) at Northfields Sechlar Park and Dundas Memorial Field. Fourth-seeded St. Olaf will take on top-seeded St. Thomas on Friday at 3 p.m. at Dundas. A year ago, St. Olaf won the tournament for the first time in McDonalds tenure, and the head coach is confident again this season.

I think weve got a good chance of advancing again this year. They always say that pitching and defense wins games, and were hanging our hat on that [the Oles lead the MIAC in team ERA by over a half a run], McDonald said. The team that plays well that first day is probably going to be the team that wins the tournament, and I think it could be any of the four teams.


For more information about the MIAC baseball tournament, visit the St. Olaf website at www.stolaf.edu/athletics/baseball.


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